Community members and teachers show their support during a Levittown...

Community members and teachers show their support during a Levittown school board meeting at the Levittown Memorial Education Center. (June 8, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Jessica Rotkiewicz

The Levittown school board has approved the layoffs of 66 teachers and teaching assistants, with board president Michael Pappas calling it a sad day for the district.

"Unfortunately, we have no other alternative," he said after a lengthy board meeting attended by more than 450 people, many of them teachers. "Of course it's a tough decision. We are dealing with people's lives."

The vote, at 11:35 p.m. Wednesday, came after a contentious meeting during which both Pappas and the head of the teachers union aired their grievances about failure to reach agreement in a very public contract negotiation that began in March.

"Unfortunately, because of the manner in which the district has handled its discussions with the union, there is pervasive mistrust among teachers towards any district proposals at this point," Therese Rogers, president of the Levittown United Teachers union, said at the meeting. The union represents 862 teachers and teaching assistants.

District officials have said reductions are being forced by a $3.5-million cut in state aid and by pressures to curb property taxes.

While most of those attending were teachers, the audience included parents and students who spoke on behalf of specific educators facing layoffs.

Michael Camacho, 18, a senior at MacArthur High School, said Thursday that he was angry to learn the board approved laying off his track coach, whom he regards as a father.

"He's a friend of mine," Camacho said. "He is the only one who should be coaching our team. He loves our team. He's amazing."

Camacho, of Levittown, choked up Wednesday night when he told the school board that his coach gave him $50 from his own pocket after the boy's belongings were stolen at a meet, leaving him no way to get home.

"He told me, 'I've got your back,' " Camacho said, recalling the incident.

District officials blamed the layoffs on significant cuts in state aid, combined with limitations on what they believed voters would approve in terms of a tax increase. On May 17, voters in the 7,600-student district approved a $197.9-million budget for the 2011-12 school year, a 2.63 percent increase over last year's budget. The budget will result in a 3.43 percent increase in the property-tax levy.

The board on Wednesday also approved the terminations of 64 temporary teachers whose terms were set to expire at the end of this school year. However, Pappas said Thursday he expects most of those employees will return. These staffers are annually appointed employees, hired to fill in for those on leaves of absence or employees working on special grants.

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